There are many different religions living together in the United States, and the topic is deep enough as to be able to write a book about it. For that reason, let us do a summary of how Judaism, Hinduism and Catholicism have influenced the United States and how their host country influenced them.
Even in 2008, during the presidential campaigns there was a high volume of God talk amongst
the candidates. Today the political debates are still about religious topics: prayer, religious
display on public property, and the limits of government aid to religious organizations.
Ultimately the debate is over the famous topic of church-state relationship, and the moral
perspectives that are brought into the political arena which in turn have consequences in public
everyday life (Wald & Callhoun-Brown, 24).
/> In early days of political life of the United States, most of the political leaders were religious leaders. And indeed, most of the educated Americans were convinced that religion was the reason behind the amazing social change in modern US history. So religion was part of the lives of conventional Americans; it was the status quo (Stephen, 1046).
The United States hosts both religious and secular people due to the plurality of cultures and religions. Protestants were the first religious habitants of the US. After the World War II, German Jews and Irish Catholics started to arrive in masses. Hinduism also joined the religious diversity after 1965 when America changed the immigration legislation encouraging trained professionals to join their working force. These new immigrants were highly skills and scholars (Bauman, 3).
It is important to note that religious differentiation are not accessories that people carry, but instead they are part of people’s identity. In America, religion helped the development of associations amongst the plurality of groups (Stephen, 1059). When Jews began to arrive, they stayed in their Jewish communal life. They continue to practice Judaism not only because of their belief but also a way of maintaining their Jewish identity (Amyot & Lee, 1). The United States supported religions as it was the path used by individuals and groups to establish their identity in the American Society.
The Jewish identity was reinforced throughout the centuries through the persecutions they suffered and because of their sense of being the chose people. In the United States, there was less anti-Semitism which meant that it affected Jewish identity. There are studies that support the fact that those Jews raised religiously in an American society have less sense of Jewish identity, affecting preservation of unique Jewish identity especially to those who want to preserve the religious and social network of Judaism in America (Amyot & Lee, 2).
Hinduism however has a completely different story. They were also welcomed in the United States and encouraged to build their temples and to worship publicly freely. By 1980, there were about 387,322 American of Indian descents, and they reached up to 1.7 million by 2007. It is not surprising that these new immigrants were very well-educated and in high paying professions compared to the early immigrants. The first Hindu communities were formed by scholars. While their immigration experience also shaped their religion as it did to the Jews, they still kept their Hindu identity. The Hindus became the “model minorities” because they had great success (Bauman, 3).
As with the Jews, the immigrant experience did change the Hinduism remarkably because of the assimilations of the American life. However, it did not change their identity as it did with many Jewish religious groups. European immigrants from an earlier time than the South Asian Americans, even in their second generations had already lost their cultural identity because they wanted to Americanize as fast as possible. Hinduism, on the other hand, looked for support in their own communities.
Part of the Americanization process was to become more religious, and this did not mean that it was necessarily Christian, because immigrants were expected to retain their religion. (Bauman, 4). In other words, immigrants could become Americans through religions, and this one helped them and their children have a sense of belonging in the United States (Foner & Alba, 20).
When Catholics and Jews arrive after the World War II from Europe, this was when America became a “Judeo-Christian” nation. Even the number of Christian Asian is larger in the US than in their own country. While in America immigrants were expected to retain their religion, for many, moving there meant that they were converted to Christianity.
While America was indeed a Judeo-Christian society, there were still Anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism throughout the history of America. Catholics felt the need to develop their own school system in mid-19th century to be able to protect their children from the aggressive Protestant influence that was supported by the state, and public school system. It was in the middle of the twentieth century that both Catholicism and Judaism were finally accepted in America.
America is a more religiously open society than Western Europe because of the post 1965 immigrants they received. Even President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s said in a Rose Garden ceremony that “Islam is an American religion” (Foner & Alba, 24). The Catholic population in the US has been increasing ever since they arrived at the host country. This increase is not only because of the early Irish Catholics but because of the Latino Catholic that is still increasing.
We have seen along this essay a few factors that influenced both America and Religious groups in America. There is much more to say of course, particularly about the secularization process and how this one affected religious life of those groups. Also in many of the original countries they have due to their religion a strong patriarchal culture while in America due to the rights people have (i.e. women’s right) some of those disappeared or diluted.
We saw how from the early days America was shaped by Protestant religion, and this one was involved in politics and everyday life. Jews and Catholics came after the World War II and later on Asian Hindus. They were all encouraged to keep their religion, and they were allowed to practice openly. Religion was a way of Americanizing, of having a sense of belonging in the new society. Today Catholics are growing because of the mass immigration from Latin America. The Catholic groups had to develop their own school system to protect themselves from protestant influence, and this has made them gain subscripts and they are still growing. The Jews, on the other hand, as they were less persecuted, and they lost some sense of identity that was kept so strongly alive throughout the centuries because they were openly persecuted. The Asian Hindus however while they Americanized just as the other groups, they looked for affirmation from their own groups. Finally, I would say that it is a strong factor the one of persecution and immigration, these two keep groups together in order to survive. It is seen in both opposite examples in the Jewish and the Catholics.
Wald, Kenneth D. & Callhoun-Brown, Allison. Religion and Politics in the United States. 7th Edition. Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. Print.
Warner, Stephen. Work in Progress Toward a New Paradigm for the Sociological Study of Religion in the United States. The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 98, No. 5. (Mar., 1993), pp. 1044-1093.
Bauman, Chad. Out of India: Immigrant Hindus and South Asian Hinduism in the United States. Butler University Libraries. 2009.
Amyot, Robert & Sigelman, Lee. Jews without Jedaism? Assimilation and Jewish Identity in the United States. Social Science Quarterly, Vol 77, No 1. 1996. University of Texas Press.
Foner, Nancy & Alba, Richard. Immigrant Religion in the U.S. and Western Europe: Bridge or Barrier to Inclusion? International Migration Review. Vol 42:2. June 2008. DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-7379.2008.00128.x.